Spring is here at last and that means you’ll find two things at the farmer’s market that you won’t find there any other time of the year: ramps and asparagus.
Sure, you can find asparagus at the grocery store in January, but that asparagus is as far a cry from farmer’s market asparagus as a Monet is to a paint-by-number flower. And ramps, love them or hate them, are here for just a fleeting moment.
Consider this dish, then, a celebration of spring; an improvised genuflection to all the good, green things to come.
To make it, you’ll need either Arborio rice or Carnaroli rice, the latter of which I found at Murray’s cheese (I thought I’d give it a go, despite my usual Arborio preference):
It’s usually a good idea to make risotto with a rich chicken stock that you make yourself (all that chickeny flavor gets infused into the rice as it cooks), but since I didn’t have good stock on hand, I made a broth with the bottom parts of the asparagus (that I cut off before slicing them) and a few ramp leaves thrown into a pot of simmering water:
Season that broth with salt and taste it; you should have at least 8 cups of water in there, possibly more, just so you have plenty to work with. Once that’s simmering, you’re ready to rock n’ roll. [Note: the broth will have a very subtle flavor; don’t worry if it doesn’t bowl you over.]
Rinse your asparagus (about one bunch), pat them dry and then slice them into 1/2-inch lengths, discarding any tough bits at the bottom.
Clean your ramps by rinsing the stems and peeling off any stringy outer layers, then patting them dry:
Separate the leaves from the stems, slicing them both thinly.
In a pot, add a good splash of olive oil (about 1/4 cup) and the ramp stems:
Gently bring up the heat (add a pinch of salt too) and after it just starts to sweat, add about 1 1/2 cups of the rice. Stir all around and cook in the oil until the rice is hot to the touch (use the back of your hand, as I learned in this video I made with Cesare Casella).
When the rice is warmed through, add a big glass of white wine (a good one). If you don’t have white wine, do what I did: use rosé!
Could it get any springier?
Once the wine evaporates, it’s all a matter of stirring, ladling and throwing things in. Ladle in a big ladleful of the broth into the pot with rice, just so it’s covered, lower the heat to a light simmer and stir. Throw in some of the asparagus and some of the ramp leaves. Continue doing this, ladling in more broth as it gets absorbed, more asparagus and more ramp leaves, slowly, for about 15 minutes, stirring often so it doesn’t stick at the bottom. After 15 minutes, taste the rice: it should just be getting there.
Keep going until the rice is tender and you’ve used up all your asparagus and ramp leaves. The risotto should still be pretty loose (as Cesare says, it should make “a wave” when you tilt the pot and swoop it back towards you.) If it’s too thick, add a little more broth. Make sure to taste here, too, for salt.
When you’re ready to serve, take the risotto off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter and a big handful of freshly grated Parmesan. Stir that in aggressively–this step is known as “mantecare”–taste again, adjust with more cheese and salt, and then pour onto a wide plate:
How’s that for a quick and easy springtime dish? And it’s something you can really only eat–at least in its purest form–a few weeks out of the year. So get yourself to the market and make this while you can.
Other Posts About Risotto: